Peterborough officials to talk cattle grazing proposal

  • Stan Fry of Peterborough moves some of his cows from pasture to pasture on a Peterborough farm. Fry hopes to use public land to graze his cows. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Stan Fry of Peterborough moves some of his cows from pasture to pasture on a Peterborough farm. Fry hopes to use public land to graze his cows. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Stan Fry of Peterborough moves some of his cows from pasture to pasture on a Peterborough farm. Fry hopes to use public land to graze his cows. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Stan Fry of Peterborough moves some of his cows from pasture to pasture on a Peterborough farm. Fry hopes to use public land to graze his cows. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Thursday, May 31, 2018 10:53AM

The Peterborough Select Board is taking public comment Tuesday on a controversial request from a local businessman to graze cattle on a piece of town-owned land off Cheney Avenue.

Stan Fry is proposing to lease a piece of property that was placed into a conservation easement and given to the town in 1986. The proposal aims to place about six cattle on the land in the first years and possibly 10 to 12 animals total down the line.

The project would include creating two large fields on both sides of the Cranberry  Meadow Trail, which runs through the property. The areas would be fenced off using wood posts, narrow fiberglass rods in between, and an electric fence, according to Fry’s plan, which he laid out in an email. The fencing would follow the trail line.

Fry told the Ledger-Transcript Wednesday, he chose the spot initially because it is visible and is located close to another property he owns. He said the project could help the town demonstrate its “green” goals by supporting projects that tackle things like regenerative agriculture techniques.

Fry said he walked the property May 22 and made a number of observations about the field, which included that it had numerous sinkholes that would need to be repaired. He said the property also has poor soil quality in some areas, among other things.

“After the field inspection, it is easy to conclude that the fields are in much worse condition than most have thought and in many ways the notion of it even being a meadow is threatened by the deteriorating quality of soils,” Fry wrote in his email to the Select Board, adding that degrading soil quality is due to field mowing and the effect of water in many areas. 

His proposal includes fixing sinkholes, improving the soil and using rotational grazing techniques to contribute to the health of the field and the environment as a whole.  

“After a closer examination of the fields I have a much stronger feeling that the degradation of these fields must be reversed for environmental and conservation purposes,” he wrote. “And in fact, those fields are in danger of losing their character as a ‘meadow’ because of decades of field mowing without enough animal activity eating the forage to stimulate root growth of the meadow grasses, which is the main driver in keeping soils healthy.”

Neighbors weigh in

Many neighbors who live near the parcel of land have voiced their opinion about the proposal.

Peggy and Jim Van Valkenburgh, who live on Cheney Avenue, said they’re against the idea.

The couple said they have lived in their house for about 20 years, and every year, they have chipped in funds to maintain the piece of land. Peggy said someone estimated that over the years, people have contributed about $35,000 to its maintenance.

Peggy said two organizations have come and evaluated the property and concluded it was in “outstanding” condition.

“It may not be perfect for grazing, but it’s not made to be grazed,” Peggy said.

Jim said he opposes a commercial use on conservation land. 

“So it’s commercial use for one guy’s company – and whatever that company is called we don’t even really know that – but the idea is commercial use on conservation land? Land that is dedicated to recreation and maybe some agricultural stuff, but to be exclusive and say, ‘I’ll control it the way I want to,’ that’s ridiculous,” he said.

Michael and Andrea Galea, who live on Cheney Avenue, said they have safety concerns about children running into the electric fence.

“There’s a lot of kids that play in the field and having electric fences and large animals and, you know, they’re cattle not just cows,” Andrea said.

“It would pose a safety issue for children,” Michael added.

Michael said his kids are grown and out of the house now, but when they were younger, they would use the field.

“We used to fly kites over there, and my son had an electric airplane, you know things like that,” Michael said. “Just freedom. It’s going to impose on the freedom of the land.”

Fry said in the email that there would be “no limitation on the use of the trail.” He said it “would be available in its current pathway without obstruction.” Fry said the fence would be charged through a solar panel. The charge would be low-voltage and would discourage the animals from leaving the fields, but would not be strong enough to injure a person.

Residents had also raised concerns about the smell and sound of cattle. Fry has said neither of those things should be an issue because of the small number of animals he plans to put out there.

A family that lives on Cheney Avenue, who spoke to the Ledger-Transcript on the condition that they would not be named because they are neutral toward the project even though the majority of their neighbors are against it, said they wouldn’t mind if cows were put in the field. They said it might look nice. One of them also said the town would receive money from leasing out the land, dollars that could be well utilized, they argued.

Dave Delworth, who lives on Old Street Road, said he can see both sides of the issue.

When it was first proposed, he was against it.

“It was really fear of the unknown, I just went into it knowing there was a proposal to put cattle out there and at that point, I’m going, ‘are we talking 50 cattle? are we talking about piles of cow manure smelling? Are we talking electric fences that are going to look ugly and that are going to make it more difficult to use the trail?’” he said.

Delworth said he’s learned about the project since then though and has sort of come around to the idea.

“Obviously I support agriculture. We need to eat,” Delworth said.

And while his attitude has shifted since it was first proposed, if he had to vote for it right now, he would likely say no.

One of his biggest concerns is that it could set a precedent.

“If we open up the door and allow this first-time use for Stan to have five cattle what’s to stop 50 cattle? So the precedent setting is my biggest thing,” he said.

The Select Board is discussing the issue and taking public input Tuesday at 5 p.m.

Abby Kessler can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 234 or akessler@ledgertranscript.com.